Art lights up lesser-known Flicker Street in Midtown

Recently, small business owners have banded together to brand the one-block area as the Flicker Street Arts District. However, that banner doesn’t mean that greater Memphis necessarily knows where Flicker Street is located.
In the past five years, Flicker Street in Midtown has blossomed into a mini arts district complete with community events that draw increasing numbers to an area that sits in the middle of the city yet is quietly tucked away from the beaten path.
 
The street is home to a loose-knit group of people with art the connection. Tenants including the Urban Earth Garden Center, Flicker Street Studio, Memphis Fashion Design Network, and Westmoreland Cabinetry. Recently, these small business owners have banded together to brand the one-block area as the Flicker Street Arts District. However, that banner doesn’t mean that greater Memphis necessarily knows where Flicker Street is located.
 
“It’s the sort of lost street that’s convenient to Midtown but nobody knows where it is,” said Greg Touliatos, who owns the Urban Earth Garden Center at 80 Flicker Street and several other buildings on the street with his wife, Carla.
 
“In the 1990s it seemed small businesses used the area primarily because it was inexpensive. With the rise in Midtown commercial real-estate values, the area has become popular because it is both super convenient and does not have much traffic congestion,” he added.
 
The one-block Flicker Street Arts District is located behind the Board of Education on Hollywood. It is across the tracks from Chickasaw Gardens and near to a popular dog park and the Memphis Skate Park.

The Memphis Fashion Design Network is the newest tenant to the burgeoning arts district.
 
The City of Memphis Fire & Police had a much larger presence on Flicker in years past, but the traffic today is mostly small business owners and their clients.
 
The former public impound lot, which had become a blight on the neighborhood, is now gone, and the Memphis Police Department recently built a new “Dog Squad” facility for training and kenneling police dogs.
 
The Touliatoses began buying property on the street in 1996 and now own four commercial buildings in the area. They opened the Urban Earth Garden Center four years ago in a building that was formerly the Memphis Area Teachers Credit Union Bank, and one of the buildings that they use as a warehouse for the garden center was previously the site of a Federated Meat Market.
 
“It’s wacky little Midtown street, and we’re trying to have some flair in what we do, to have some character and not necessarily be like every other street in the city,” Touliatos said. “Art is always something that’s been a passion of mine, and we try to incorporate art into our work. When we started the Urban Earth Garden Center, which also has display beds and a community garden, we began incorporating art into our various beds.”

Employee Rachel Wilson tends greenery at the Urban Earth Garden Center.

 
For the past two years, the Garden Center has taught adult education gardening classes on Saturdays 20 to 25 times per year.
 
“Starting this summer, we’re going to put children’s classes in place,” said Touliatos, who hopes to model some of the program after the popular 901Rocks project while also teaching the kids about the environment. 901Rocks involves painting and decorating rocks and then hiding them, like Easter eggs, in Memphis neighborhoods.
 
Urban Earth will also offer classes on dinosaurs, highlighted by its full-scale velociraptor model on-site.
 
Painter Nancy Cheairs and her husband, sculptural artist Jim Buchman, own the Flicker Street Studio at 74 Flicker Street where they and other prominent artists have taught art classes since 2010. Buchman has worked from a studio in the back of the building for more than 16 years.
 
“We have about four art shows per year for our students and faculty with the next one coming up in May,” said Cheairs, who has worked as a professional artist for nearly 35 years.
 
Classes are available for beginners to experts on watercolors, figure drawing, acrylic painting, sketchbooks, oil painting, and bookmaking, along with children’s classes.
 
“The street is really growing,” said Cheairs. “We’ve had an Art Bash and street parties, and we get great crowds.”
 
Elsewhere on the street, Bob Westmoreland builds high-end cabinetry at Westmoreland Cabinetry at 54 Flicker Street. Scruggs Electric has done business at 58 Flicker Street for 40 years, furniture builder Tables & Stuff sets up shop at 66 Flicker Street along with Connie Williams Interior Design, and contractors Travis and Associates/Kandu Construction are located at 62 Flicker Street.
 
On the west side of Flicker Street, Zellner Construction is renovating the City of Memphis’ Claude A. Armour Fire & Police Training and Communications Building, including a new roof and entry façade. A police precinct that had been there moved to Tillman Street, and now the building is being used for city emergency communications. 

Construction taking place at the Claude A. Armour Fire & Police Training and Communications Building.
  
“It’s exciting to see progress,” said Touliatos.
 
Memphis Fashion Design Network rents one of the Touliatoses’ buildings, one of the two iconic army-style Quonset huts on the street.
 
“We liked the idea of the Quonset huts, so when we built the Urban Earth facility out here we actually repeated that look and built two greenhouses with ends that look like two Quonset huts,” said Touliatos, who enlisted LRK to design the interior of the historic original hut.
 
The original 3,000-square-foot Quonset huts were built in the mid-1950s, with legendary KWEM radio operating from the buildings until the early 1960s.
 
“The very first time Elvis, Johnny Cash, Howlin’ Wolf – all of these ultimately legendary musicians – were heard, the radio was actually broadcasting over the tower that’s there,” said Touliatos. “I’ve been told they would come in and pay $15 and then they would get the radio essentially to themselves. They would talk, play records and bands would come in to play.”
 
An application has been submitted to have the Flicker Street Quonteset huts added to the National Registry of Historic Places.
 
“We just love this street and the community vibe of it,” said Memphis Fashion Design Network director Abby Phillips. “We have a lab space where we work with emerging designers, and we’re the umbrella non-profit for Memphis Fashion Week.”
 
The fashion incubator allows fashion designers to buy a membership and then work at the lab with local models, hair and makeup stylists, and photographers on their creations.
 
“We’ve had a couple of events where we do trunk shows with our designers or workshops, and we love being able to do street-wide events,” said Phillips. “Having Urban Earth Garden Center crew and the fine arts crew from Flicker Street Studio along with our fashion design, it’s nice to have the three different demographics there seeing everybody else’s art.”

Read more articles by Michael Waddell.

Michael Waddell is a native Memphian who returned to Memphis several years ago after working for nearly a decade in San Diego and St. Petersburg, Fla., as a writer, editor and graphic designer. His work over the past few years has been featured in The Memphis Daily News, Memphis Bioworks Magazine, Memphis Crossroads, the New York Daily News and the New York Post. Contact Michael.
Signup for Email Alerts